National Wildlife Refuge System

New Pacific Ocean Discoveries

Researchers found the first recorded specimens of black coral 200 feet below the surface of the ocean at Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, about 860 miles west of Honolulu.
Credit: Daniel Wagner/NOAA
This species of coral had not previously been collected from Johnston Atoll and represents a new record for this remote area.
Credit: Daniel Wagner/NOAA

Researchers on an expedition to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument returned with specimens of never-before-seen species of deep-water algae from the Hawai’ian Islands and the first recorded specimens of black coral from Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, about 860 miles west of Honolulu.


“This represents a significant increase in the known biodiversity of Hawai’ian coral reefs and provides insights into how Johnston Atoll contributes to the diversity of reefs in Hawai’i,” said Randall Kosaki, chief scientist of the expedition. “This documentation of diversity is timely and critical because climate change threatens much of this diversity before we even know it exists.”


Scientists will use the data as a baseline to measure impacts of climate change, among other things.  “The Northwestern Hawai’ian Islands and Johnston Atoll represent healthy coral reef ecosystems,” said John Burns, a coral researcher at the Hawai’i Institute. “This is an important baseline as we enter an era of accelerated climate change.” 


Coral disease has decimated coral reefs in Florida and the Caribbean, where is it believed to be exacerbated by climate change and increasing sea surface temperatures. Scientists on the Papahānaumokuākea expedition collected samples of fish, corals other invertebrates and algae for population genetics analysis; searched for invasive species of coral and algae; and conducted archaeological surveys of the Howland, a late 1800s whaling ship that wrecked at Johnston Atoll, which is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.


The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is managed cooperatively by the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Interior and the State of Hawai’i.  The monument’s seven atolls and islands are the most widespread collection of coral reef, seabird and shorebird protected areas on the planet under a single nation’s jurisdiction. Johnston Atoll Refuge is part of the


Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument


Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument fact sheet


Coral Reef Refuges fact sheet

Last updated: July 5, 2013